The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a Republican political action committee, is withdrawing ads alleging sexual harassment against Democratic congressional candidate Gil Cisneros, after Cisneros’ accuser withdrew her allegations, calling it a “misunderstanding.”
“I misunderstood the conversations that I had with Gil Cisneros at the Democratic convention and after. I don’t believe that Gil sexually harassed me,” said Melissa Fazli in a news release circulated by Cisneros’ campaign on Monday.
The CLF, which raises funds to support Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, has circulated television and web ads about Fazli’s accusations, including mailers featuring her name and face.
“Why are Cisneros and his liberal allies trying to silence her, keeping her from telling her story?” one ad, titled “Silence,” asked.
Cisneros is running for Congress in the largely north Orange County 39th district against Republican Young Kim for the seat being vacated by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Fazli, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the 55th State Assembly District in June, said in the news release the CLF ads are “weaponizing my story for their own political gain.”
In the same joint news release, Cisneros said he reached out to Fazli after “seeing the pain” of Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
“I believed it was important to listen to her and to open up a line of communication. We sat down and heard each other, found a clear case of misunderstanding, and are both ready to move forward,” Cisneros said.
On Tuesday, Cisneros’ campaign said the CLF had pulled those ads after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the campaign.
The CLF did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday, but its communications director Courtney Alexander said, in a statement to Fox News, “Is this another example of a rich and powerful man using his power to intimidate a victim of sexual harassment?”
“Cisneros has been publicly accused of disturbing accounts of sexual harassment for the past six months and instead of taking those accusations seriously, his surrogates called them absurd. Unlike Gil Cisneros, we believe all sexual harassment allegations should be taken seriously,” Alexander wrote.
In a one and a half page statement she posted in May, Fazli called Cisneros an “unethical creepy man” and claimed he, intoxicated, asked her, “should we go back to your room?” while at a California Democratic Party convention in San Diego. Later, she wrote about a phone conversation where she accused Cisneros of propositioning her for sex in exchange for a donation to her campaign.
Fazli was outspoken about her allegations and tweeted as recently as Sept. 19 that “the commercials are accurate.”
That same day, she tweeted at former President Barack Obama, who praised Cisneros at an event in Anaheim. “Are you really endorsing Gil Cisneros for CD39 in CA? I ask because no one contacted me about my #MeToo moments with him,” Fazli wrote.
Obama initially had not endorsed Cisneros as part of a slate of endorsements for House seats that the former president released in August. His spokeswoman Katie Hill confirmed that Obama endorsed Cisneros at the Anaheim event.
Cisneros vehemently denied the allegations and lined up witnesses from the event, including a television news reporter, to refute Fazli’s claims.
In a phone interview Oct. 2, Fazli said she agreed to meet with Cisneros after Mirvette Judeh, a local Democrat, told her about her children seeing the CLF ads while watching videos on Youtube. Judeh told her that people who saw the ad thought she was raped by Cisneros, Fazli said.
“They blew it out of proportion…they didn’t realize, you’re going to go after Gil because he’s running – but did you think about what you’re doing to me?” Fazli said.
Fazli said she was also upset by mailers that featured her name and face, and said she has moved from Yorba Linda because of security concerns.
Asked by Voice of OC whether Cisneros said the things she originally alleged, and to describe the nature of the misunderstanding, Fazli declined to elaborate on specifics, referring to the statement Cisneros’ campaign released.
“I am sticking by exactly what I said in my statement,” Fazli said.
She and Cisneros apologized to each other for “hurt feelings” and for the damage done to each of their families, Fazli said.
“We talked it out, we saw each other’s point of view, and realized there was a misunderstanding on both sides,” Fazli said. “It was a bit surreal. It was like, wow, there’s so many people who have different points of view and somebody can take it and twist it and do what they want with it, like the CLF ads.”
Fazli said Cisneros wanted to reach out to her right after she posted the allegations on Twitter, but his former campaign manager, Orrin Evans, advised Cisneros doing so would be an admission of guilt. Fazli says she was not paid or rewarded for withdrawing her allegations, although she did request Evans’ resignation.
Evans confirmed Tuesday that he stepped down as campaign manager.
Evans is still with Left Hook Media, a political strategy company that works for Cisneros’ campaign.
Correction: This story previously misstated that former President Barack Obama has not endorsed Cisneros. Obama initially did not endorse him, but has since backed Cisneros after appearing alongside him at an event in Anaheim. We regret the error.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.
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